Review by Robert Trate
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Original Year of Release: 2017
Run Time: 130 minutes
From the director of There will be Blood comes the story of a 1950’s renowned dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis). The film was an Oscar contender the second it was announced as being Day-Lewis’ last film. Was it a worthy end song to a fine career? No.
Phantom Thread is a fictions tale about Reynolds Woodcock, a dressmaker who is on a level of his own in the fashion industry. To establish the character quickly for you, two young ladies relay to Woodcock that they hope to be buried in one of his dresses, to say nothing of the Belgian Princess for whom he has sewn a dress to accompany every major milestone in the woman’s life. This is not a story about Woodcock’s rise to fame or even his fall. In fact, it deals with his love life and meeting Alma (Vicky Krieps).
We see the end of one of Woodcock’s relationships at the very beginning of the film. He has muses who inspire him, but as each waits for him to fall in love with her, he has already grown tired of the relationship. The one constant woman in his life is his sister, Cyrill (Lesley Manville). She is both confidant and business associate and understands Woodcock better than any other.
We see Woodcock and Alma’s meeting and brief courtship. It looks picturesque until we see the exact same scene from the beginning when we know that Woodcock is ready to move on again. However, the difference here is Alma truly loves Woodcock and is willing to do almost anything to keep him. Which includes poisoning him.
The film could have gone in a multitude of directions at that point. It could have gone very dark, but instead, we see Woodcock cling to Alma when he is ill. His cruelty and unique behavior subside. When the characters finally wed, I believed that the film was indeed over. The pace of the story and the length of which each character was willing to either drive the other off or keep the other around were enough. There was enough meaning that I saw that both of these people were very flawed individuals and yet made for each other. However, after all this was realized, screenwriter and director Paul Thomas Anderson continued the story for yet another round of mental torment and poisoning. By that point, I felt as if he was beating a dead horse or just trying to get his film over 2 hours. I wasn’t exactly sure why I needed another turn to reinforce their relationship dynamic. Perhaps them actually being married was to add a stake in Alma’s plight, but it got tired.
I opened with the film being an Oscar contender from Daniel Day-Lewis’ retirement announcement. I thought that after watching My Left Foot, Lincoln, Gangs of New York, and There will be Blood, this would be the end-all be-all performance of Day-Lewis’ career. Instead, it felt like a footnote in a relatively fantastic career.
The film was an Oscar contender in the categories of Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Best Achievement in Directing, Best Motion Picture of the Year, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, none of which I could understand. However, a nomination for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) was well deserved.
It is my summation, in ten years time, that people will only look back on Phantom Thread as the last time Daniel Day-Lewis appeared in a motion picture. Hopefully that is not true, because we need actors of his caliber in cinema today. Not to shine as brightly as he always does, but to bring out the very best of all those around him. This film was a miss-fire for Day-Lewis to end his career on. Hopefully, there is a young Christopher Nolan out there who find the Irishman, bored, and drop the right role in his lap for a truly worthy curtain call.
Phantom Thread arrives on Blu-ray April 10th, 2018.